Sunday, August 28, 2011

Evidence Based News 2

Another letter to NPR:

When confronted with past interviews (that were dead wrong) it would be great, one day, to hear a guest say, “Wow, what was I was thinking?”

On March 14, you had two guests on discussing President Obama’s actions in Libya. Tom Malinowski thought the president’s actions were too-little-too late, while General Wesley Clark thought Obama was drawing us into another war. I wonder if you could have these two gentlemen on again and ask both “experts” how they got it so completely wrong.

It seems to me that there is a serious flaw in news commentary which allows guests with opposing views, to each give their opinion without forcing them to engage and challenge one another. In a format such as this, there is no consequence for either person if he or she is incorrect. It assumes that we, the general public, will simply forget that particular moment in history. In reality, by giving opinions that were basically wrong, these people were greatly complicating an already difficult situation.

When there is a specific controversy that will have a specific outcome in the future, NPR should look at moments such as these as an opportunity. Get guests to agree to come back on the show one year after their predictions to explain themselves. If they are not willing to do so, then NPR should not allow them to broadcast their message to a national audience. A policy such as this would go a long way in helping the field of so called experts shed itself of the overabundance of news analysts who are bad at analyzing the news.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Savannah – America’s Most Haunted City

The old historic structure was built as a hospital on the outskirts of town, to house the victims of the yellow fever epidemic. Afterwards it was turned into as asylum to hold the criminally insane. It became so crowded that they had to build a tall addition to the original structure. After the institution was closed down, passerbys started catching glimpses of a figure in the windows cloaked in a white dress or gown - the spirit of a dead patient perhaps, or a nurse still trapped in the crumbling building?

I just got back from a mini-vacation in Savannah Georgia, voted the most haunted city by the Sy Fy Channel’s Ghost Hunters. Now normally, I would put a lot of stock in a TV channel that dares to spell it’s name in such an avant garde manner, but this time I’m going to have to call shenanigans. Savannah is an enchanting town. And yes, my wife and I spent the first day flying (literally) through the historic district. Standing upright, we floated above the cobblestone roads hovering one foot off the ground, our feet never touching the earth the entire time. But that was only because we spent the extra couple of bucks for the Segway tour.

We also did an evening ghost tour, which was excellent. The tour guide had created an interesting and quite believable Oscar Wilde-like character. He wore a patterned scarf tied around his neck and used a thin umbrella as a walking stick. This character started the night happy, with many glib remarks. But with each story of a ghostly child or a chopped up wife, our guide became more somber. As the tour progressed, he started realizing how horrific the stories, he was telling, really were. By the end, the guide was filled with anxiety and self doubt. He achieved a character arc in an architectural walking tour…very talented.

And what about the haunted hospital? The later addition of the hospital was recently converted into low income housing. “Last year,” said our tour guide,” there were fourteen suicides in that building alone - all by hanging, and all, only occurring on the side that overlooked the original structure.”

As we walking away from the site, I overheard another tour guest say to her boyfriend, “oh, that was probably just coincidence.” It never occurred to this lady that what our escapee from the Garden of Good and Evil was saying was all complete bunk. No, a ghost tour guide would never fabricate a story. After all he was wearing an ascot for God’s sake. People with ascots don’t lie! Boy, that’s good theater.

Friday, August 5, 2011

My Problem with the Planet of the Apes Trailer

Ok, let’s say, as a result of a scientific experiment gone array, some monkey becomes super intelligent, (monkeys are apt to do that). And let’s say this particular monkey decides to raise an army of super ape warriors to conquer the human race. That’s fine, happens all the time. I’ll even give you that he probably could get his grubby little hands on some guns. Sure, you can’t buy a gun without a background check but a smart gorilla could probably go to a gun show. As long as he disguises himself wearing jeans and a trucker’s cap and he promises that the guns are only for his personal home collection. The dealers there would give him all the machine guns he wants…no background checks or cooling off period.

My real problem with this trailer is this. Where did all the monkeys come from? If the laboratory was in, say, the heart of New York and an intelligent chimp was able to free every great ape in the tri-state area, what would that be - like seven monkeys?

The other problem I have with this movie is that this story about how the apes take over the world completely kills the message of the original movie. The original Planet of the Apes was one of the films that I chose for my list of Ten Great Humanist Movies. That article appears in the July/August issue of the Humanist. The article was supposed to be positive, so all the reasons I give for choosing that movie are all sunshine and puppy dog tails. The reasons I didn’t include in the article, were all the negative things the original movie said about the human race. Sure, we are rooting for Charlton Heston as he runs from Dr Zaius, but consider the beginning of the film and the many rants Chuck does about how horrible the Human race is. And consider one of the verses from Dr Zaius sacred scrolls,

Beware the beast man, for he is the devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport, or lust, or greed. Yeah, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert out of his home, and yours.

I’m a Humanist, but being a Humanist doesn’t just mean you’re a cheerleader for the human race. It’s not “Up With People.” Humanists are also realists. We know that people are capable of great evil as well as good. At the end of the original Planet of the Apes I didn’t think that the apes had anything to do with the downfall of man. Unlike this new movie, I didn’t think it was “us against them.” I felt that we had done it to ourselves. The apes had just come along afterwards and filled the void left by our own self-destruction. The original movie wasn’t another horror story about make believe Frankenstein monsters that looked like monkeys. The original movie’s power was in its precautionary message about us - human beings. The tagline of the movie poster was a reminder. “Somewhere in the universe, there must be something better than man.” It’s not about what we do to the monkeys. It’s about what we do to each other.